Freedom vs. Responsibility

Now that we have properly celebrated the Declaration of Independence and the birth of our freedom as a nation, perhaps it is time to begin a reflection on the obverse side of the same coin. As German theologian and Nazi resister Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “Responsibility and freedom are corresponding concepts. Factually, though not chronologically, responsibility presupposes freedom and freedom can consist only in responsibility. Responsibility is the freedom of men which is given only in the obligation to God and to our neighbour.”

I have long believed that as an extension of the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor, the U.S. needs to build a Statue of Responsibility in San Francisco harbor. Our nation must maintain a very delicate balance between these two poles. Too much freedom and you have anarchy; too much regulation and you lose freedom. We do not live in isolation-we live in a greater community and we have the responsibility to consider the impact of our actions on our neighbors and the country as a whole.

This dichotomy has always fascinated me in regards to the gun safety debate. On the one hand we have zealots who proclaim that there are no acceptable restraints on their freedom to possess firearms. On the other hand we have zealots who believe that no one should be able to own firearms in any circumstance.

The recent Supreme Court decision in the case of District of Columbia v. Heller has set the principle that there are legitimate restraints on the constitutional rights of individual citizens to own firearms. This is consistent with the view of our Founders that government regulation was an integral part of not only the Second Amendment, but ordered liberty in general. A tremendous opportunity is now open to us. We can enter into a genuine debate-unmarred by propaganda- over what legitimate restraints can and should be placed on firearm sales and ownership in order to keep America €™s communities safe. It will be a delicate balance to attempt to achieve, but many of our country €™s greatest accomplishments have involved this type of careful and thoughtful compromise.

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